French soprano Laetitia Grimaldi and South African/Israeli pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz are touring Australia for the first time, and bring their concert “Songs from a Parisian Salon” to Dubbo this May.
Laetitia Grimaldi has sung in renowned halls and on opera stages worldwide since her debut at Carnegie Hall in 2013. Ammiel Bushakevitz was awarded the 2011 International Schubert Institute Award, and has performed as piano soloist and vocal accompanist throughout Europe, North America, Africa and Asia.
They talk here about the music and poetry of Paris before the Great War, and the highlights of performing together.
Your concert is titled “Songs from a Parisian Salon”. Do you have a special relationship with Paris?
AB: I lived for a few years in Paris and studied at the Paris Conservatoire, a wonderful experience. I’m still often in Paris and it is unique to be in a city with so many museums, great architecture and cultural events on offer.
LG: So many of the composers, poets and artists I love lived in Paris. When I walk through the streets and see the houses in which they lived, it brings the music to life for me.
Your concert is set in Paris during “La Belle Époque”? What is special about this historical period?
LG: La Belle Époque was a time of peace and prosperity, from 1880 to 1914, and the arts in particular flourished. This was when the Eiffel Tower was built, for the 1889 World Fair. Paris was a bubbling and exciting city, attracting people from far and wide.
AB: La Belle Époque means “the beautiful era” and it was a wonderful time to be a creative artist. Every evening in Paris, you could visit several “salons” in grand houses belonging to patrons of the arts, where poets, writers, painters, composers and musicians gathered to perform, exchange ideas and share their work. The French mélodie, or art song, was refined at this time by many of the great French composers.
Art song is a combination of poetry, vocal melody and piano accompaniment. What are some of the key features of art song?
LG: The music highlights the poetry and the poetry enhances the music. It is a complex and intricate relationship between the words and the music.
AB: The piano part is an essential aspect of the art song and often lays out the entire emotional tapestry. We have selected songs in which the piano is as important as the voice, almost like an alter-ego.
What will the audience experience at your concert?
LG: We invite the audience to travel back in time with us, to imagine themselves in a Parisian salon surrounded by gilded furniture and large mirrors, perhaps sitting next to poet Paul Verlaine, novelist Marcel Proust, sculptor Auguste Rodin or painter Claude Monet, and listening to the latest musical compositions.
AB: The songs are in French, so there will be translations and we will talk to the audience, explaining the stories of the songs. The audience will experience the Parisian culture of the time, the way of life, its romanticism and its charm.
How did you select the music? What are some of your favourites or highlights?
LG: The program was chosen to represent the best of La Belle Époque. Composers include Gabriel Fauré, the father of the French mélodie, and Reynaldo Hahn, a well-known identity around the Parisian salons. The poetry used in the songs is also important. Claire de Lune, or Moonlight, is a song composed by Gabriel Fauré to an exquisite poem by Paul Verlaine, who was inspired by an Impressionist painting.
AB: As well as accompanying Laetitia’s singing, I play solo piano pieces by Franz Liszt, who was a big celebrity of the time in Paris and throughout Europe. And we perform songs by a female composer, Cécile Chaminade, who managed to leave her mark in the very masculine world of composition.
Performing together as singer and pianist: what do you enjoy about that as musicians?
LG: Two is a special number when it comes to chamber music, because there is an ebb and flow that cannot easily be achieved by three or more performers. The reactions to each other’s impulses are almost instantaneous and that’s very rewarding.
How do you develop this performing relationship?
AB: Well, the performing relationship between a singer and a pianist is similar to a friendship. Either you get along and trust one another’s personality and musicality or you do not. When two musicians get along and have the same musical intentions and ideas it is a wonderful experience. We are lucky that we have the same musical taste!
Laetitia Grimaldi and Ammiel Bushakevitz perform “Songs from a Parisian Salon” at Macquarie Conservatorium Dubbo on Friday, May 11, at 7.30pm. Visit www.macqcon.org.au for details; bookings at www.123tix.com.au
* Vivienne Winther is the Director, Macquarie Conservatorium